2014 NCAA Softball Tournament, Columbia Regional: Well hello, old enemy

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If seeds hold (as they certainly might), this is the team the Tigers will NOT play this coming weekend in Columbia. Oh, how we hope that ends up not being the case.

Before we get started, here are some important links which have already been covered this week:

Well, we knew this day would eventually come. Despite all the posturing by the kU AD and Sheahon Zenger, we knew that Mizzou and kansas would share the field at some point. Many of us thought/hoped it might be in NCAA basketball, but we've not really held up our end of that potential bargain. But really, softball made the most sense because of the desire to keep the Regional round as local as possible. So as kansas makes its first NCAA tournament appearance in almost a decade, it really should be no surprise that Jayhawks would land in Columbia, MO. Will we get what we want? Let's take a look.

kansas Schedule/Common Opponents

I will be honest, it took me a minute to realize the Big 12 only has seven softball teams, as k-State, TCU and WVU (great additions there) dont play the game. Therefore, kansas' schedule seemed a little lacking in conference. Out of conference, I think it was OK, with some decent games and results. At the top, they have a 7-5 win over #15 Kentucky (split two games, the other a 4-2 loss), and a 9-3 win over #37 USF. On the other side, 1-0 to #27 UCF. 3-2 to #28 Depaul. And a 1-0 loss to #18 NU, who they will face Friday afternoon.

Close games in there to be sure, while most of the rest are fairly unremarkable. Losses to #95 Eastern Illinois, #104 Ole Miss, #112 Murray State, #115 South Dakota and #148 St. Louis are certainly marks off. In conference, the Hawks went only 7-11. Three of those wins came against #124 Iowa State and three more against #58 OSU, both of whom finished below kU in the B12 standings. The only win against a team above them was against #26 UT (also lost 2-0 and 8-0). Overall, kansas was 33-21 on the year, going 8-11 in away games and 15-6 in neutral ones.

As for common opponents, let's see what the schedules shake out:

  • Kentucky: kU split two games, MU went 1-2
  • Okie State: kU won three games, MU won 2-1
  • UMKC: kU won 5-0, MU won 14-0
  • Ole Miss: kU lost 6-2, MU won three games
  • Baylor: kU lost three games (combined score of 19-1), MU lost two games (combined score of 5-3)
  • Fordham: kU won 10-1, MU won 8-0

kU goes 6-5, MU goes 7-4. Pretty close on the surface. So let's dig a little deeper.

kansas Offense

The kU offense hits for a decent team average, with good consistency throughout. There is one omission from the lineup though, and it is power. kU actually hit fewer HR's than their opponents. I would imagine this is pretty uncommon for a BCS team in the NCAA tourney, but kU hit only 31 to their opponents 32. .293 overall average and four everyday players over .325 is impressive, so let's check out the lineup:

  1. Ashley Newman (Sr.-2B): Solid at the top of the lineup at .333 and leads the team in steals with 12 (in 13 attempts). Tough to strike out (only 10), but does not work any walks (6), which hurts her OBP.
  2. Lily Behrmann (Fr.-RF): Started 35 games this year, hitting .284. Neither a power threat (1 HR), nor a running threat (0 attempts).
  3. Chaley Brickey (So.-SS): Top of the charts in a number of categories. Led the team at .375, 42 runs scored and thanks to 39 BB's, her OBP was .508. Also led in slugging at .658 thanks to 11 HR's. 38 RBI's was second best on the squad. Not a speed threat (0 attempts). All of this was good enough for 2nd team All-Big 12, the second time in her career she has earned such an award.
  4. Maddie Stein (Jr.-1B): Productive in the middle of the order, leading the team in hits with 65 and RBI's with 39. Did so without really any power (1 HR), but did hit 12 doubles. Not a speed threat (0 attempts). Earned All-Defensive team honors for the Big 12.
  5. Chanin Naudin (Jr.-3B): Not terribly sure the choice here at #5, as Naudin hit only .260 on the season with 5 HR's (third on the team). Did steal one base in her only attempt though, so I guess there is that.
  6. Harli Ridling (Fr.-C): Played every game for the Hawks, hitting .272. Was second on the team with 8 HR's, third on the team with 35 RBI's and was hit a team-high 25 times, which helped give her the second-best OBP at .425. Did not attempt a stolen base.
  7. Taylor Hatfield (Sr.-LF): The final Hawk above .300, Hatfield batted .329 on the year. Had 16 XBH (10/3/3), her three triples leading the team. She did not attempt a stolen base.
  8. Taylor Dodson (Fr.-DP): Saw action in 31 games with 19 starts and batted only .180
  9. Taylor McElhaney (Fr.-CF): Saw action in 52 games with 44 starts, batting only .193. Did have three stolen bases in five attempts.

There you have it. VERY little power, and even less speed. The team was 27-32 on the season on the base paths, with only three people stealing more than one base. Senior P/OF Alex Jones had 10 steals in 12 attempts in 43 starts to put the last piece of that puzzle together, and we could certainly see her in the lineup. This team takes pitches pretty well (164 walks) but also swings through some chances (222). Given the fact they played in the Big 12, which has solid pitching, this is probably not a really terrible number.

kansas Defense

They may not create a ton of runs, but they certainly do not let any freebies. In fact, they were third in the nation in fielding percentage at .979. They had only 29 errors, leading to only 17 unearned runs total. No one on the squad had more than six errors (Newman at 2B). Strangely though, the team turned only one double play all season.

kansas Pitching

The Hawks had two pitchers start all but one game this season, and top of that chart was sophomore Kelsey Kessler. She went 19-14 on the season with a 2.41 ERA over 206.1 innings. Her control was very solid, surrendering only 39 BB's and 171 hits. 244 K's means she can set people down, and batters only hit .224 against her on the year. I would certainly expect her to get the start against NU on Friday. Whether she would turn right around on Saturday and start again or turn the ball over to junior Alicia Pile remains to be seen. Pile went 12-6 on the season with a 2.45 ERA over 122.2 innings. She too was economical with her pitches, walking only 37 while giving up 105 hits. 125 K's means she is almost as good as Kessler in setting people down, and her batting average against (.235) was pretty close. On the season, kU struck out almost 400 batters while only walking 99. That is a K:BB ratio that any coach would love to see. Teams hit only .230 against kU and were shutout 15 times.

Overall Thoughts

Defense, pitching and just enough offense to win games. That was the kU formula and it worked a decent amount of the time. kU played NU pretty much even in their one game this season, so it is perfectly fair to expect them to do the same tomorrow afternoon. Can they do it enough to win the region? I dont think that is entirely likely, but I dont think that will be a bad thing for kansas. Their lineup is stacked with underclassmen, and if anything, they have arrived a year ahead of time. With only three seniors counted in their top 12 players, it is certainly conceivable we see kU back in Columbia in another season or two as the #2 seed. In the meantime though, a couple of losses with a win against Bradley wont be a bad experience for this young squad. It may just not give MU fans what we are hoping for.

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